October 03, 2006

Perturbing Thoughts for the Day

And I can see no reason why anyone should suppose that in the future the same motifs already heard will not be sounding still ... put to use by reasonable men to reasonable ends, or by madmen to nonsense and disaster. -- Joseph Campbell, Foreword to The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology
Persistence in error is the problem. Practitioners of government continue down the wrong road as if in thrall to some Merlin with magic power to direct their steps. There are Merlins in early literature to explain human aberration, but freedom of choice does exist--unless we accept the Freudian unconscious as the new Merlin. Rulers will justify a bad or wrong decision on the ground, as a historian and partisan wrote of John F. Kennedy, that "He had no choice," but no matter how equal two alternatives may appear, there is always freedom of choice to change or desist from a counter-productive course if the policy-maker has the moral courage to exercise it. He is not a fated creature blown by the whims of Homeric gods. Yet to recognize error, to cut losses, to alter course, is the most repugnant option in government. -- Barbara Tuchman, The March of Folly
A discussion of these quotes (with longer excerpts from Tuchman) will be found in one of the essays in my Iran series, "Folly Marches On -- And Seeking a New Direction."